Michigan State Spartans
Last Year: 20-15 (10-8 B1G) NCAA Tournament Second Round
The Michigan State Spartans are almost always in contention for a national championship. Coach Tom Izzo consistently has them at the top of the Big Ten and with the talent they have returning it seems as though this year will be no different.
While last season was a down year for the Spartans, the return of Miles Bridges in what will likely be his last college season makes Michigan St. a consensus top five team. There have been plenty of chances for this program to win championships since their last in 2000. The most recent was in the 2015-16 tournament where the number two seeded Spartans led by Denzel Valentine lost a shocking opener to fifteen seed Middle Tennessee (RIP brackets everywhere). But what did that season have in common with this one? A star guard who is a potential Player of the Year candidate.
The return of Bridges shocked the college basketball world. In this age of one-and-dones it is rare for a player of Bridges’ caliber to return after a year like last. But according to Miles, he had “unfinished business” and wanted to return for another chance at a title. Luckily for the Spartans, he also has plenty of support around him.
This year’s Michigan State team is barely different from last season. The only two departures from the entire roster were senior Guards Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis III, but neither of them had too large of an impact. Harris’ biggest contribution was his ability to score. He was third on the team with 10.4 PPG. However he still only averaged about 22 minutes a game and barely finished in the top half of every other statistical category. Ellis was also pretty irrelevant on this team. He did not get even 20 minutes of playing time per game and only scored on average 6.4 PPG. However he was third in steals per game which has to count for something right? Overall the talent Michigan State is bringing in more than replaces what they lost in the offseason.
Jaren Jackson is by far the greatest asset joining the Spartans this year. Ranked ninth overall in ESPN’s Top 100, Jackson is arguably the best forward in the class behind Bagley and MPJ. At 6’11 225lb, this PF is a big man who can consistently hit from beyond the arc, a rare sight in college ball. He also has a good mid-range jumpshot and can score inside using a high jump hook which makes him a threat from almost anywhere on the floor. Defensively his size gives him a large advantage in the paint as well, allowing him to be a consistent shot blocker.
The only other addition to the team this season is Xavier Tillman. Another Power Forward ranked in the Top 100. At 6’9 250lb, Tillman may not be able to move as quickly as Jackson but he can muscle his way inside to dominate the post. He also has a variety of post moves that allow him to score close to the rim. But beyond the paint he really has no offense to offer and will have to work on extending his range to become a serious threat like Jackson.
The Spartans boast a similar, albeit more experienced roster compared to last season. Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson will be the go to guys in the frontcourt and Gavin Schilling returns from injury as well. In the backcourt we have Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn returning too. Nairn has improved his shooting and will be able to score himself rather than relying on simply being the playmaker. And of course there is Miles Bridges who is one of, if not the most hyped player going into this season. The talent is there and with Izzo at the helm there is little that Spartan fans should be worried about going into this season.